There are so many things to consider when deciding between purchasing a house or a condo, Grownups—Blogger Susan Johnston Taylor breaks some of the pros and cons for us.
When my husband and I recently moved to Austin, we knew we wanted to buy a place and set down roots—but we weren’t sure if we wanted a condo or a single-family home.
Having owned a condo (we rent out the condo we used to live in), we weighed the pros and cons of that purchase and ultimately decided to look for a single-family home. In our case, a condo wouldn’t have been much cheaper because even if the mortgage was less, the monthly condo fees at many of Austin’s condo buildings would have offset those savings.
While a real estate purchase is a big financial decision, it’s also an emotional one because you want a home that suits your current and future needs. A property at a great price that doesn’t feel like home isn’t much of a bargain.
Here’s a rundown of our thought process:
Advantages of a Condo:
- Less maintenance. Our condo management took care of landscaping, window cleaning, hallway vacuuming, and elevator maintenance for us, so we didn’t have to worry about fixing or maintaining anything outside our unit. It was nice knowing we could lock the door and leave for vacation without worrying about mowing a lawn (we didn’t have one) or dealing with other issues. Our new house is in great condition, so it doesn’t need major repairs, but we still have maintenance costs beyond what we paid for our condo. So far we’ve paid to have the air ducts cleaned, consulted tree trimmers, and paid someone to mow our lawn. We would have foregone a lot of these expenses if we’d chosen a condo, but we might have outgrown that condo in a few more years anyway.
- Amenities. Depending on your condo community, you might have a doorman, a pool, a fitness center, or other amenities. Of course, you’ll also pay more for these amenities, but some people like the convenience. Our old condo building has a communal roof deck and a furnished guest suite we could rent out when relatives visited. The latter was a huge perk because it cost less than a hotel room, but gave our guests more space (and the money went to our building’s contingency fund).
- Location, location, location. Condos are often closer to prime downtown areas with public transportation, restaurants, shopping, and everything else you need nearby. (Our old condo had a Walkscore of 99!) In choosing a single-family home, we sacrificed proximity to downtown, which is less important to us now that we’re in our 30s, but got more space and a more neighborhood feel.
Disadvantages of a Condo:
- Less privacy. Sharing walls with your neighbors in a condo building often means hearing their music, their arguments, even intimate moments. Cooking smells can also spill over into your space, and with balconies close together, you may not have as much privacy as you’d like. Some people enjoy befriending their neighbors down the hall, but if someone new moves in who isn’t as friendly, it can change the dynamic of the building. My new neighborhood is active on NextDoor, so I’ve actually had more interactions with my new neighbors than I did in my condo building, but I can always turn off notifications if my digital neighbors get too chatty!
- Less space. Moving from a 750-square foot condo to a 2,000-square foot house means we’ll have more space for guests or possible additions to our family, more space to entertain, and more space to spread out if one of us wants to work or read in peace while the other watches TV. We also have ample street parking now for whenever we have visitors. Of course, some people prefer smaller spaces because it feels cozier and it’s less to furnish, heat, and cool.
- Condo fees. Condo fees can cost several hundred dollars per month on top of your mortgage and even when the mortgage is paid off, you’ll still have to pay condo fees for as long as you own that unit. Here in Austin, lots of condo buildings have swimming pools, which meant we’d likely pay more than we did at our old building whether we used the pool or not. (We can always join a community pool during the sweltering Texas summers.) Since our house is part of a homeowner’s association, we do pay HOA dues, but those cost less than $100 per year, which is much less than we’d pay for condo fees.
Generally speaking, the pros and cons of a house would be the inverse of those described above, depending on the one you choose. Townhomes offer a middle ground: generally more space than a condo, but perhaps shared walls and some sacrifices on the privacy front. For us, buying a single-family home made the most sense, but it’s a multi-faceted decision that requires careful consideration.
Susan Johnston Taylor has covered business and
personal finance for publications including
the Boston Globe, Entrepreneur, FastCompany.com,